Before working at Canstrat I was a consultant working as a wellsite geologist. One of the things I could never find was a practical guide that honestly illustrated the working conditions on a typical oil rig. Knowledge regarding rig crew interactions, echelons of authority and general every day routines were all things I was striving to learn but lacking materials and individual connections to learn them from. I've had this article in my pocket for a while hoping to release it just as the oil and gas industry took a turn for the better but it seems we may have to wait for this a while more. However, there are plenty of recent graduates and experienced geologists who will be looking for work and wellsite may be one of the first places they will be able to find it.
A friendly warning to start, this is going to sound a lot worse on paper than it really is but I would rather have you expecting the worst instead of thinking field work is all rainbows and unicorns. There is also a lot of up sides to wellsite work including: travel, good people, lots of time off and freedom to work when you want.
(example of very nice living quarters, image provided by http://inclusivenergy.com/)
One of the most popular questions I have received is regarding living conditions. As the geologist you will stay on the wellsite in a rig shack. Living conditions can vary greatly from site to site, sometimes you will get a new shack with leather couches, fake wood floors, a nice bed and big screen TV. Sometimes you will get something much worse, but often you will get something in between. A lot of times it has nothing to do with what company you are working for because it is all about supply and demand for living quarters.
In most cases as the geologist you will be given approximately a 300 square foot room in a mobile trailer. This mobile trailer is not like an RV, it’s more similar to a shipping container that has two living quarters inside - one on each half. These trailers will contain a small kitchen, full size fridge, desk, couch, bedroom, and private bathroom. The quality of the amenities can vary quite a bit as well, but for the most part it all works just fine. Might need a bit of a clean though.
Bring everything you would need to fill a small camping kitchen; pots, pans, plates, utensils, Tupperware, plastic wrap, tin foil etc. For the bedroom I highly recommend buying a twin size waterproof bed cover, a lot of people sleep on those mattress and it’s nice to have an extra layer of protection. Finally bring lots of paper towels and cleaning supplies, when you leave give the place a good clean for the next person to use your shack.
Tip: invest in some good containers, you will be moving your gear in and out of your shack every time you leave the rig site.
In today's horizontal drilling environment where rigs are chewing up 60-120m an hour, you will most likely start as a second geologist working the night shift. The lead geologist will usually have several years of experience and know many of the geological and drilling concepts needed to effectively steer a well. The lead geologist is also responsible for training you on how to analyze the rock and what specific properties you must be on the lookout for. Even when you are on shift the lead geologist is responsible for the decisions you make, so if you’re ever unsure don’t hesitate to wake them up. They may be grumpy at first but not nearly as grumpy as they would be if you screw up their well.
Your work station will often be in your sleeper shack with a separate sample shack to clean samples. Sometimes you will work in a command center with the DD's, MWD's and an engineer.
Working from your sleeper shack is really good if you’re on a slow well because it allows you to have all your comforts available while keeping an eye on the well. It can get a little lonely so make sure you are well stocked up on movies and TV shows. I also recommend bringing a video game console or investing in a laptop that can play games, these will keep your mind active and help you stay awake if you’re working the night shift.
Working from a command shack is nice for faster wells as it allows you to communicate in person with the DD’s, MWD’s, and the drilling engineer. Quick and effective communication is vital on fast wells because most of your time will be spent cleaning and analyzing samples due to the speed that they are being collected at. Working in this setting can be tricky sometimes because geologists are not necessarily the most liked person on the rig. Quite often you will need to earn the trust and respect of the command crew before the command shack is a place you want to work.
A topic that is not frequently discussed is sample cleaning. Samples are always soaked with drilling mud because the mud is what transports them to the surface. If the rig is using a water based drilling fluid the amount of cleaning required will be minimal. If the rig is using invert or some other oil based drilling fluid, soap and hot water will be your friend. To wash the samples you will need to attach a hose and garden water gun to a sink tap; high pressure and hot water are needed to help clear invert away. Safety glasses are a must and I also suggest a comfortable mask. I highly recommend you invest in a metal dishwasher hose rather than a rubber or garden hose, invert tends to eat way at rubber very quickly.
Tip: when washing invert with hot water, invert particles can get trapped in the water spray and mist. It is important to wear a mask to protect your throat and lungs from long term exposure.
If you work for a company that is OK spending a little extra money and saving water, there are a variety of oil mud cleaning solutions available on the market. Varsol is a common oil cleaner, but it is nasty stuff and you NEED to wear a mask when using it. Organic oil cleaners are quite effective at removing invert from samples and make them really nice to look at, but they can also remove oil staining so there is a trade-off.
The people you work with and how you interact with them will be a huge part of what makes wellsite geology ether really fun or really hard. The “rig pig” mentality doesn't exists as much but can still be present in some areas, what remains is more like a frat house mentality. As the geologist you will be the butt of some jokes and teasing when you first get to a new rig site. It is important to not take personal offense, instead realize that teasing humor is a way of life on the rig. A little self-deprecation can go a long way.
Speaking from personal experience, I highly recommend going to the drilling floor control room (dog house) and introducing yourself to both your driller and sample catcher. When I first started I never went to the dog house, like most new wellsite geologists, thus I was often treated with mild neglect and contempt by the drillers and samples catchers when ever I had a request. Once I started making an effort to be personable with the rig crew, especially the drillers, my needs and requests were met every time. This might seem like common sense, but when you are new to the wellsite, taking time to be nice to the rig crew seems pretty low on your priority list. I assure you being a well-liked geologist on a wellsite makes the job much easier.
It is very important that you meet your sample catcher and ask them to show you how they are catching your samples. If they don’t know, show them politely. Explain to your sample catcher theirs is a key job for a successful well. You can’t make drilling decisions if you don’t have accurate samples to analyze. Also know that the person catching your samples is usually the least experienced rig hand and is being run ragged with a 1000 other things to do. If your sample catcher misses some samples or can’t bring them over quick enough try to settle it with them first before you talk with the driller, chances are they will get chewed out if you complain.
Tip: if the sample catcher understands why they need to catch the samples on time, they are more likely to care
The directional driller is the person you will work most closely with while drilling. They are folks who have most likely worked their way up from rig hand to driller, then taken certification courses and done training to learn how to use directional drilling tools. Working well with directional drillers is the key to a successful job. It is always worth it to sit down with them at the beginning of your shift and talk about your drilling targets, what might happen, what type of rock you’re drilling through, and to learn about how they do their jobs. When you understand how your DD operates it is much easier to communicate. There are too many geologists in the field who think they know how to directional drill and as a result give us a bad name. Think how you would like it if the drilling engineer told you how to describe your samples better.
Tip: learn from the directional driller and how to read all the drilling data the rig collects. Learning how to read mud volumes, bottom hole pressures, rotatory, ROP, and various other drilling information can tell you a lot about what your drilling through.
Get use to bugs and mud in the summer.
The lifestyle of a wellsite geologist is both exciting and difficult. As you gain experience you may travel to different areas of the country or even the world, and make a great wage while doing it. It is hard to be away from home and you will miss lots of events that your friends or family will go to, but you will also get lots of time off. It’s important to learn how to budget your money early because your pay cheques will be sporadic and often grouped together in bunches for several jobs.
The most dangerous part of your job will be driving out to the rig site.
The road is a dangerous place in general, but in the winter it becomes a place where continual vigilance is required if you want to arrive in one piece. Most wellsite geologists are hurt not on the wellsite but driving to it.
The life of a wellsite geologist can be quite hard at first but once you have established yourself on a rig and adapted to the work with the crew it can be a very enjoyable experience. If you pay attention and learn how certain formations behave as you drill through them you will gain a competitive advantage over your peers. Eventually you will transition from a second geologist to lead and take on a rig of your own, where you will need to make quick decisions that could save or cost millions of dollars. If you transition into an office position later down the road the experience you’ve gained in the field will be invaluable.
It is a life that will have many pro's and con's, but if you take the time to learn and ask questions rather than pretending to know everything, your life will be much easier. If what I have said still hasn’t deterred you and the idea of travel excites you than wellsite geology may be a job for you.
Hi, thanks for reading my blog post! I am a Calgary based GIT who works for Canstrat advocating the use of cuttings data to solve problems and improve interpretations. Please connect with me on LinkedIn to receive more articles about life and geology in your news feed.